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What's Fair in Renting a House?

April 19, 1987

Instead of berating "insensitive" landlords as in your April 14 editorial, why not look at the situations that produce the events as reported in the story on Jim and Kim Abbott.

They have come from out of state to establish themselves here. Due to an unfortunate sequence of events, they became homeless. Could foresight on the Abbotts' part have warded off some of the problems?

Perhaps Mr. Abbott could have preceded his family here to scout the area for employment and housing, and the crash that resulted in their homelessness might have been avoided.

But assuming that to be an impractical approach for a family new to Southern California who had not made preliminary inquiries as to the feasibility of their move, I want to address the problem of housing for good people like the Abbotts.

We are landlords and consider ourselves to be sensitive and kindly people. A significant portion of our retirement income is derived from our modest property. Unless people have rented single family homes, it cannot be imagined what can happen to the houses.

Our most recent experience was to pay a couple who could not pay the rent to move! The house required $1,500 worth of cleaning, painting and fumigating and we do most of the work ourselves.

When we have rented to families of five and six, the one bathroom gets stopped up, resulting in plumbing bills for us to pay. In one case, the stopped-up plumbing resulted in permanent damage to the carpet, which has to be replaced.

When one family moved in a water bed contrary to the rental agreement, it leaked and ruined the hardwood floor. Another family complained that the carpet was worn; we replaced it, and within six months it was covered with cigarette burns and grease stains.

We make house, tax and insurance payments, and pick up the bills for pest control, heavy landscape cleanup, water heaters, roofs and plumbing repairs. All of our payments are on time, despite late or no rent payments, bounced checks and whatever else Murphy's Law dictates.

Yes, we try to screen tenants. Some have lied and falsified references in order to move in. Naturally we try to keep the income level in line with reasonable expectations of what a budget can stand.

The so-called compassionate landlord in Huntington Beach is perhaps getting a free ride at the Abbotts' expense. As I understand it, the rent is about $800 for a three-bedroom house that needs renovating. Not a bargain.

It remains to be seen how responsible he will be to their need for tools and materials to make needed repairs. Mrs. Abbott has already noted that it's an awful mess. A flawed landlord/tenant relationship might be predictable.

What is fair?



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